ONE WEEK IN BANGLADESH

Shumshernugger Tea Estate sunset - Bangladesh

One week exploring the little travelled Bangladesh. From Dhaka, to the tea gardens of the north east and visiting the stunning Lalakhal area.

Bangladesh is one of those countries little travelled countries that you don’t hear much about. Always on the hunt for lesser travelled destinations, we didn’t hesitate when the opportunity arose for us to visit. Accompany my parents on a week long business trip, we were super pumped to explore Bangladesh and get a little off track. But unlike our usual thrifty backpacking adventures, this trip was quite different. We really got to see a side of Bangladesh that the average tourist wouldn’t.

Getting to Bangladesh

We’d already planned a trip to Oman and had allowed flexible onward travels dates to Malaysia, Myanmar and the Maldives. After assessing our options, we discovered it was only a short and affordable flight from Muscat to Dhaka. Furthermore, there were with affordable onward connections from Dhaka to Malaysia and Myanmar. So getting to Bangladesh happened to slot right into our travel plans. We flew into Bangladesh with Airarabia and out with Airasia.

First impressions of Dhaka

After departing the airport, our first experience in Dhaka was battling the sheer volume of traffic. On our drive from the airport, it was fascinating to see the variety of vehicles (cycle rickshaws, motorbikes, tuk-tuks/tomtoms, cars, trucks and buses), all jostling one another for positions on the road. Literally squeezing into gaps and past each other with only millimetres to spare.

The buses in particular, seemed to throw their weight around and their weathered appearances suggested years of service. In fact, we hadn’t seen any other buses in the world quite like these. The robust single and double deckers, were all bruised and battered. Boasting multiple obvious patch-ups, paint jobs, cracked and missing windows, made for quite a sight. Each panel looked liked it had been painstakingly beaten back into shape, riveted back on and given a quick lick of paint, before being sent back into the action time and time again.

Dhaka Bus, Bangladesh

At the time of writing, Bangladesh was the 8th most populated country in the world. The population sat at 168 million, many of whom lived in the capital and biggest city – Dhaka. It was also the third fastest growing economy in the world. Infrastructure and communication development were occurring all over the country, including significant road improvements. This coupled with the construction of a new monorail, meant that the traffic was a nightmare! Our 17km morning journey from the airport, took two and a half hours. We often came to a complete standstill for periods of up to 30 minutes at a time.

Exploring Dhaka

That afternoon hit the streets for a spot of shopping. En route to the shops, we were targeted in what could only be described as a bizarre, but ingenuitive heist.

As we sat at a busy intersection, a large bull elephant and mahout appeared out of nowhere. Before we knew it, they were heading straight for our car. Upon reaching our 4×4, it stopped before gently pressing itself against our vehicle. An obvious show of intimidation and a gentle reminder of how easily it could squash us, should it choose to.

The elephant swung its trunk through the drivers open window, hovering in front of the drivers face. Our unfazed driver reluctantly whipped out a small note and placed it into the elephants trunk. Astonishingly, with the mahout unable to see the transaction, the elephant blew the note back at the driver. After delivering a larger note into the trunk, the elephant proceeded to pass it up to the mahout. At that point, it slowly and carefully trudged off back through the traffic to find its next unsuspecting victim. We only wish we’d been able to capture the unique ‘highway robbery’ on camera.

After a little look around, we set off to Butlers Chocolate Café in Gulshan for an afternoon treat. This had become the ‘go to’ cafe, after the tragic shooting in 2016, at the popular Holey Artisan Bakery. If you have a sweet tooth, we highly recommend a visit.

Driving north to the Sylhet Division

Our next adventure was visiting some tea gardens in the northeast of the country, with our hosts, Sonia and Imram. Making two stops along the way, the first stop was at Sonia’s beautiful family home in Ghorashaal. We had time to wander around the lovely property, before feasting on an amazing breakfast platter full of Bangladesh delights. All were delicious, but our favourites were Bhapa Pitha and Tela Pitha.

Ghorashaal property - Bangladesh
Bangladeshi Feast

The second journey breaker was in the Luskerpore Valley at the Chandpore Tea Estate for lunch. After recieving a lovely welcome and some beautiful leis, we were treated to another Bangladeshi feast. It this point, we knew Bangladesh certainly wasn’t going to do any favours to our waistlines!

Despite being the driest time of year, there were still bursts of green patches of irrigated paddy fields. And for a couple of wildlife lovers, plenty of bird life around. An environmentally friendly way of keeping harmful insects under control in the paddies, was common practice in many areas. Providing perches throughout the fields, allowed birds to sit and catch harmful insects. The main frequenters of the perches were Black Drongo’s along with numerous colourful White-throated and Common Kingfishers.

White-throated Kingfisher

Shumshernugger Tea Estate

We spent three nights in the lovely Lungla House on the Shumshernugger Tea Estate. Owned by Duncan Brothers tea company, we enjoyed learning about the methods of pruning and other processes involved in getting the plants ready for maximum production. However, as it was February, it wasn’t the right time for ‘plucking’ the tea bushes. Therefore, the bushes weren’t in optimal photographic condition!

Lungla House - Shumshernugger Tea Estate, Bangladesh
Shumshernugger Tea Workers -Bangladesh

The grounds of the Shumshernugger tea estate were stunning, with manicured lawns and flower beds. The surrounding tea bushes and shade trees stretched far as the eye could see, with irrigation lakes dispersed throughout. It was the perfect climate to visit the tea gardens and we experienced some beautiful sunsets.

Shumshernugger Tea Estate
Shumshernugger Tea Estate lake sunset  - Bangladesh

Shumshernugger Tea Estate was home to lots of wildlife too. There was plenty of birdlife in the tea plantations, on and around irrigation lakes and the gardens of Lungla House. As usual we had fun trying to photograph some of it. There were lots of Pied Mynas and Black Drongo’s. But it was two of our favourite species, the colourful Little Green Bee-eaters and Hoopoe we were most interested in.

Green Bee-eater at the Shumshernugger tea estate

The highlight of the visit was our involvement in the companies annual sports day. A day full of party like games, competitions and unsurprisingly more great food. I even participated in the main event – the pillow fight. Balancing precariously on a wooden beam clinging on with my thighs I was up against the five years reigning champion. In an exhibition match, I was billed the international challenger. Needless to say after all the hype I was knocked off pretty quickly! They insisted on a rematch and my opponent obviously took pity on me going down more easily than Neymar!

In the evening, we attended the awards presentation for all 16 tea gardens belonging to the group. The evening consisted of yet more fun and food.

The Lalakhal River

On our penultimate day, we moved north to Nazimgarh Wilderness Resort in the Lalakhaal area. The resort had wonderful views over to the Sari (Sharee) River, also referred to as the Lalakhal River. It was an incredibly peaceful place to enjoy the surrounding beauty. There was even an infinity pool to chill out in. And I literally mean ‘chill out’, as the water was seriously cold!

Nazimgarh Resort Views - Bangladesh
Nazimgarh Resort Infinity Pool

That evening, we went for a sunset cruise down the beautiful colour changing river that the area is famed for. With the light fading the river slowly turned from emerald green to turquoise blue. Our boat driver explained that the watercolour was a result of the large amounts of coal, sand and rock on the river bed, filtering the water. We took the boat as far as the heavily guarded Indian border. En route, we passed the Lalakhal Tea Estate and locals washing their possessions on the riverbanks.

Lalakhal River – Beautiful Bangladesh

On our last day, we went for a walk down along the river, in search of some photogenic spots. At this dry time of year conditions are just right allowing this magical colouration of the river. During and after the rains, the river is considerably fuller. Its fast-flowing water is a very different muddy colour and these muddy banks submerged.

A colour changing Lalakhal River - Bangladesh
Local washing in the Lalakhal River - Bangladesh

Back to Dhaka

We flew back to Dhaka from Sylhet, for a final banquet of delicious Bangladeshi cuisine. With our in time Bangladesh complete, we immersed ourselves in that crazy Dhaka traffic, as we made our way to the airport. We were still transfixed by the bruised and battered buses, particularly the big double deckers. How they forced their way into seemingly impossibly small gaps we will never understand! No wonder all these buses have a few dinks and dents! But it was fascinating to watch as we crawled our way to the airport.

Double Decker Bus in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Arriving in relatively good time for a Dhaka journey, we thought the hard part was complete. That was until we saw the queues on the ramp up to the departures hall. Once getting to the top there were people everywhere with queues spilling well out of the entrances. Our driver pushed on through the chaos before parking at what looked like an exit. He somehow got some kind of pass, before ushering us through a quiet door into the arrival hall. We’d bypassed all of the chaos and had we not, we would have most certainly missed our flight.

Just when we thought we could relax, the mosquitoes came out. And not just a few, but an army of them. Foolishly, despite being warned, I’d worn shorts and flip flops. With no mozzie repellent on hand, we spent the next two hours at war with swarms of mosquitos.

In summary

Despite the minor annoyance as we left the country, we couldn’t have enjoyed ourselves more in Bangladesh. The people were warm and welcoming and the scenery and birdlife were beautiful. The food was fantastic and we literally rolled out of the country. What really made the trip was our super hosts Sonia and Imran. Their wealth of knowledge and passion for their country really showed. And their kindness and generosity was endless. They really went above and beyond to make our stay as enjoyable as it was!


Planning a trip to Bangladesh? Don’t miss:

Lalakhal River – Beautiful Bangladesh

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